Karachi has 'taken a stand by demanding that the people and Government of Pakistan take climate action now'
Updated Saturday Sep 21 2019
The drums beat relentlessly and chants of “We demand clean air” rang out as tightly-knit groups of Karachiites gathered at the metropolis’ Frere Hall and amalgamated into a growing crowd of protesters for the first-ever Climate March, which coincided with rallies across the world in at least a dozen countries.
Kicked off by new media artist Yasir Hussain and Zehra Zaidi, the event welcomed its first guest, 15-year old Rimsha Ali, to the stage. A student of Zindagi Trust’s SMB Fatima Jinnah Government Girls' School, the teen had prepared a chilling poem that had the audience in silence, contemplating the seriousness of climate emergency.
Rimsha spoke of lower attendance at schools as children were hit by malnutrition, mental stress, and other sicknesses.
“If the heaps of garbage grow, what do they do? They just burn it,” said the student, referring to the indifference of corporations and municipal authorities towards trash.
Karachi, which has fallen victim to global warming and climate change as is evident from the increasing frequency of heatwaves as well as episodes of torrential rainstorms, is one of the most crucial Pakistani cities that needs a proper climate policy to deal with its problems.
"We have grown up without clean air to breathe or safe water to drink,” Rimsha explained.
“Promise me that you’ll use tiffins for lunch and not plastic bags, promise me that you won’t waste water, promise me that you’ll use public transport, and promise me not to throw seeds in the dustbin but in soil so there are plants,” she appealed.
The Climate March — one of the 35 simultaneous ones across various cities in Pakistan — was unique in the sense that there was no group or organisation behind it but it was rather driven by citizens concerned about the climate crisis, demonstrating the need to unite and address the climate emergency together.
“Today, the citizens of Karachi have taken a stand by demanding that the people and government of Pakistan take climate action now!” said Abid Omar, one of the citizen-volunteers organising the March.
Karachi is expected to see a rise in suffering from drought, heat, desertification, air pollution, and higher sea levels, and intrusion that will harm our citizens unless we take measures to protect the city and its citizens, she added.
A lady health worker, who was at the Climate March alongside a peasant worker, said she lived in kutchi abaadi and worked 24-hour shifts; she said her patients, too, were from underprivileged households and they faced a persistent shortage of resources.
Her companion underlined how children in her community were just born weak, which, in turn, stunted growth.
Initiated by 16-year old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s #FridaysForFuture movement, more than 5,000 strikes were held in 156 countries, held ahead of ahead of the United Nation’s climate emergency summit starting September 23.
These climate marches are aimed to urge politicians, leaders, and those in power to take action before it is too late.
The capitalist corporate juggernaut “is sucking out the air out of your lungs”, one of the two representatives of the Sindhiana Tehreek warned. “They have wiped out the greenery from Karachi!”
Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum leader Fatima Majeed agreed, speaking of air pollution and how the world was moving on from coal power but Pakistan was still using it. “China, especially, has halted the use of coal power but it has sent the rejections to us.
“There’s a new coal power plant being set up in Ibrahim Hyderi; there’s too much security around it, blocking roads and telling people to go elsewhere,” Majeed said, adding that the factory’s construction has led to the unfortunate removal of mangrove forests on Sindh’s coastal belt.
Women Democratic Front (WDF) member Aabida Ali underscored further on the common person’s livelihood, saying the impacts of climate change included significant climate-driven migration, dangerous working conditions from extreme heat, job loss — in rural areas — due to crop failure and due to extreme weather events in urban ones.
Agreeing with Ali, Hussain, the artist, added that Pakistan “would have floods, starvation, disease, chaos, and massive deaths with rising global warming”. It was even more concerning that Pakistan’s southern port city was not at all prepared for these weather extremes.
To add to Karachiites’ woes, the whole city is currently a huge garbage dump, noted KCR Mutasirin Action Committee’s Sagheer Ansari. “We need to make these decisions ourselves now.”
Ansari, who works for the challenges faced by those affected by the anti-poor demolition, said: “Of the 4,653 households marked, at least 1,100 houses have already been demolished five months ago, leaving the impactees to live under open sky for almost half a year.
“They do not have washrooms. They have no access to water.
"And they are harassed if they try to put up roofs made of cloth,” he added.
As the speeches concluded, musician Arieb Azhar took the stage and sang some beautiful tunes that left the crowd mesmerised; the fantastic point, however, was that his lyrics focused entirely on climate.
Translated from Punjabi, Azhar told Geo.tv they read:
See Bullah, the birds in the air,
Just watch and see how they fare,
Neither do they hoard their seed,
Nor ever do they die of need,
Has ever any bird swift of wing?
Died in need of anything?
Only men hoard out of greed,
Only men die of need!
The 5,000-strong rally then moved from inside the Frere Hall to Abdullah Haroon Road outside, bringing rush-hour traffic to a standstill and leaving motorists curious as the protesters yelled slogans.
As the crowd reached the historic Metropole Hotel intersection, the demonstrators staged a “die-in” — showing people lying dead on the road as a simulation of what the environmental emergency could potentially unleash on the world — while pedestrians, shopkeepers, and drivers looking on, flabbergasted at having to stop despite the traffic signal working.